Constantinople – The Dogs

Constantinople is an immense dog kennel; every one makes the remark as soon as he arrives. The dogs constitute a second population of the city, less numerous, but not less strange than the first. Everybody knows how the Turks love them and protect them. I do not know if it is because the sentiment of charity toward. all creatures is recommended in the Koran, or because, like certain birds, the dogs are believed to be bringers of good fortune, or because the Prophet loved them, or because the sacred books speak of them, or because as some pretend, Mohammed the Victorious brought in his train a numerous staff of dogs, who entered triumphantly with him through the brcach in the San Romano gate. The fact is that they are highly esteemed, that many Turks leave sums for their support in their wills, and that when Sultan Abdul Medjid had them all carried to the Island of Marmora, the people murmured, and when they were brought back, they were received with rejoicings, and the Government, not to provoke ill-humor, has left them ever since in peace.

Since, however, according to the Koran, the dog is an unclean animal, and every Turk believes that he would contaminate his house by sheltering one under his roof, it follows that not one of the innumerable dogs of Constantinople has a master. They therefore form a great, free, vagabond republic, collarless, nameless, houseless, and lawless. The street is their abode, there they dig little dens, where they sleep, eat, are born, brought up, and die; and no one, at least at Stamboul, ever thinks of disturbing their occupations or their repose. They are masters of the public highways. In our cities it is the dog that makes way for the horseman, or foot passenger. There it is the people, the horses, the camels, the donkeys, that make way for the dogs. In the most frequented parts of Stamboul four or five dogs, curled up asleep in the middle of the road, will cause the entire population of a quarter to turn out of the way for half a day. It is the same in Galata and Pera, but here they are left in peace, not out of respect for them, but because they are so many that it would be a hopeless and endless task, to attempt to drive them away from under the feet of the passenger.

They are with difficulty disturbed even when in the crowded street a carriage with four horses is seen coming like the wind. Then, and at the very last moment, they rise and transport their lazy bones a foot or two out of the way—just enough and no more to save their lives. Laziness is the distinctive trait of the dogs of Constantinople. They lie down in the middle of the road, five, six, ten in a line, or in a ring, curled up so that they look more like tow mats than beasts, and there they sleep the whole day through among throngs of people, coming and going, with the most deafening noises, and neither cold, nor heat, nor rain, nor shine can move them.

When it snows they stay under the snow; when it rains they lie in the mud up to their ears, so that when at length they rise they look like sketches of animals in clay, and there are neither eyes, ears, nor nose to be seen.

The canine population of Constantinople is divided into quarters or wards. Every quarter, every street is inhabited or rather possest by a certain number of dogs who never go away from it, and never allow strangers to reside in it. They exercise a sort of service of police. They have their guards, their advanced posts, their sentinels; they go the rounds, and make explorations. Wo to any dog of another quarter who, pushed by hunger, shall risk himself within the territory of his neighbors ! A crowd of curs falls upon him at once, and if they catch him, it is all over with him; if they can not catch him, they chase him furiously as far as his own domain; that is, to the confines of it, for the enemy’s country is ever feared and respected. No words can give an idea of the fury of the engagements that take place about a bone, about a fair one, or about a violation of territory. Every moment may be seen a crowd of dogs, entangled in an intricate and confused mass, disappearing in a cloud of dust, and giving forth such barkings and yelpings as would pierce the ears of a man born deaf ; then the crowd disperses—and through the dust appear the victims stretched here and there upon the field of battle.